ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. -- Tim Maggard imagines that someday when a teacher tells students to take out their books and turn to chapter 3, they will flick on an electronic device rather than haul out an outdated, beat-up textbook.
Maggard, director of instructional technology for the 14,000-student Hardin County school district, is working on what he calls the Kentucky Digital Textbook Project, creating what he calls "living" textbooks that would allow students to learn at their own levels and would be free for all.
With a new school year starting and no money allocated in the state budget for new textbooks, Maggard's project couldn't come at a better time.
"Teachers have by necessity had to move away from textbooks," said Wayne Benningfield, superintendent of schools in rural Todd County, where 2,100 students attend public schools. "If a teacher primarily relies on outdated textbooks only for instruction, their students will not be successful on statewide assessments. Teachers are constantly searching for aligned curriculum materials from any source they can beg, steal or borrow."
While Kentucky has for many years budgeted more than $20 million annually to help districts pay for textbooks, that money has slipped away in the last several years. That has left local districts to pick up the tab for new materials as the state is putting into place massive reforms to conform to new, more rigorous national benchmarks.
Pointing to science text held together with duct tape that is still being used in the classroom, Maggard described it as a 10-pound paperweight. The book still includes Pluto as a full-fledged planet.
"I believe that in two years we will see schools having to perform additional fundraising just to have up-to-date textbooks for students," said Lynn Greene, an active PTA volunteer with three children in Jefferson County Public Schools.
Greene said she is also concerned there are not enough textbooks in classrooms.
"The lack of allocation will put additional strain on schools that are short-staffed AND will not have the educational resources to teach," she said in an email. "It is difficult as a parent to help with homework when you can't see the work that is being done in the classroom."
Jefferson County, the state's largest district with more than 100,000 students, spent more than $8.1 million last year on new textbooks and teaching materials, said spokesman Ben Jackey. Todd County in southwestern Kentucky has spent more than $170,000 to update some teaching materials since the 2008-2009 school year, the last time it received additional money for textbooks, said Benningfield.
A 25-year-old study of textbook funding in Kentucky cited problems going back to at least 1982.
"Funding of the textbook program has been inconsistent over the last 10 years," said the 1987 Legislative Research Commission report, "ranging from an appropriation of $2.7 million in fiscal year 1982 to over $15.3 million in fiscal year 1987."
David Karem, Kentucky's school board chairman, was a state senator from Louisville in 1987 and helped with the report. He said the state Department of Education is trying to help bridge the gap with a new computer system that encourages school districts to share online resources.
"Given that instability, we have to recommend a stronger reliance on online and blended learning opportunities that typically rely on open source and course-created resources," Karem said.
Maggard and his team are seeking submissions from across the state for the virtual textbooks.
"We're running a repository in Hardin County for the state," he said. "Everybody can put books into it and everybody can pull books out of it."
Kentucky's normal textbook-replacement schedule calls for one subject to be replaced every six years. Maggard said if it takes two years to produce at textbook, then the book is not replaced for a minimum of six years, students are "learning bad facts."
"Thirty years ago, we had no way to share mass information, but we're not living 30 years ago," he said.
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